Updating Herman Daly's 3 simple rules for sustainability to a world in overshoot.


Updating Herman Daly's 3 simple rules for sustainability to a world in overshoot.

Earlier this week the brilliant

shared a post about 3 simple rules for sustainability, written by the founding father of ecological economics, Herman Daly.

However, these rules are no longer sufficient. We are living in a world that's already pushed past its limits. Six out of nine planetary "boundaries" have been crossed, meaning we can't just aim to "do no harm" anymore. Doing no harm in a system that's already harmful doesn't solve the problem. We can only achieve a truly sustainable, steady-state society through net positive, regenerative action deployed at a sufficient pace and scale, hand in hand with a necessary radical systems change.

Therefore, I have tried to revise these three principles to better align with a world that has exceeded its social and ecological thresholds.’

Rule 1:

Original rule:

→ For a renewable resource - soil, water, forest, fish - the sustainable rate of use can be no greater than the rate of regeneration of its source.

New rule:

Regenerate more than you consume: employ renewable resources in a manner that enhances their renewal rate.

Example, implementing regenerative agriculture not only produces food but also increases soil fertility, sequesters carbon, and enhances biodiversity, leading to a net positive impact on the environment.

Rule 2:

Original rule:

→ For a nonrenewable resource - fossil fuel, high-grade mineral ores, fossil groundwater - the sustainable rate of use can be no greater than the rate at which a renewable resource, used sustainability, can be substituted for it.

New rule:

Replace and enhance: Use non-renewables only as long as they are used to ensure the replacement of product or services that increase negative pressures on social and planetary boundaries

Example: utilizing fossil fuel energy is permissible solely for the development and expansion of renewable energy infrastructure, like wind or solar power installations, provided that it results in a net reduction of fossil fuel dependence.

Rule 3:

Original rule:

→ For a pollutant, the sustainable rate of emission can be no greater than the rate at which that pollutant can be recycled, absorbed, or rendered harmless in its sink.

New rule: Replace & transform pollutants into resources: Replace and convert pollutants into beneficial inputs for ecological or social systems.

Example: organic packaging materials, instead of ending up in landfills, are processed into compost. This compost then serves as a natural fertilizer, enriching soil fertility and supporting the growth of healthier crops, thus closing the loop in a sustainable cycle.

This is not a critique of the amazing Herman Daly, but it's an attempt to explore and reshape how terms from thinkers like him can be applied in today's climate emergency conditions, where merely avoiding damage falls short of restoring climate equilibrium and rejuvenating ecosystems.